Cambodian Vote on Track despite Violence CAMBODIA'S DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION

By Kenneth J. Stier, Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, December 4, 1992 | Go to article overview

Cambodian Vote on Track despite Violence CAMBODIA'S DEMOCRATIC TRANSITION


Kenneth J. Stier, Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE electoral process is well under way here. But with politically motivated violence on the rise, a climate of fear prevails that the United Nations currently seems unprepared to dispel, UN, diplomatic, and Cambodian political sources say.

By late November, 1.3 million out of roughly 5 million eligible Cambodian voters had registered to vote in the May elections. Fourteen political parties had set up more than 80 offices around the country. These numbers far exceed UN expectations.

Yet a recent surge in political intimidation and grenade attacks, several assassinations, and the capture this week of UN peacekeepers have highlighted the inextricable link between adequate human rights protection and the success of elections.

"We don't know if it is coordinated but there is something very ugly going on and it is very worrisome," a Western diplomat in Phnom Penh says.

The Dec. 1 capture of six UN peacekeepers by the Khmer Rouge in central Kompong Thom Province came a day after the UN Security Council imposed an oil embargo against the rebel group for refusing to disarm. A spokesman for the top Khmer Rouge leadership said the the local commander would be told to release the peacekeepers.

With calculated intent or not, the Khmer Rouge's seizure starkly demonstrates the disruptive potential the rebel group retains over the peace process it has not yet joined, but which it has not repudiated either.

Slightly more cooperation has been forthcoming from the Phnom Penh government. But the UN's position is fragile, wedged between the Khmer Rouge and the Phnom Penh regime, which both still regard politics as a duel with their mortal enemies.

Many of the recent attacks on political workers have been perpetuated by officials of the de facto government in Phnom Penh, Western diplomats say. In some instances, the Phnom Penh officials have obstructed UN investigations.

The sharp deterioration provoked UN Special Representative Yasushi Akashi to issue a warning to all factions that the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) "will not hesitate to use its powers under the Paris Agreement to ensure that" human rights are respected and culpable officials are held responsible.

Various meetings were called between senior UNTAC and Phnom Penh government officials, including one in which Prime Minister Hun Sen promised Mr. Akashi a directive would be sent out to all provinces ordering local officials to remain neutral.

UNTAC has begun an extensive human rights education program for police, judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and human rights activists. The program will help the participants apply new standards incorporated in a provisional penal code drawn up by the UN and adopted by Cambodia's Supreme National Council (SNC). …

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